Remembering 1199’s History: 40th Anniversary of HIV/AIDS

July 23, 2021

Last month marked the 40th anniversary of the first description of AIDS. To date, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has resulted in over 75 million infections and 33 million deaths.

Over the decades, 1199 has been on the frontlines of the fight against the disease. For example, Washington D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health became a leader in education, testing, counseling, advocacy, and the provision of direct services to people with AIDS. It opened the country’s first gay, community-based medical unit devoted to the evaluation and diagnosis of AIDS symptoms.

Val S. Dickerson, who worked on an AIDS unit at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in the 1990s, described the medical and emotional support he and his coworkers provided. “Even if it was just eight hours of available time for them (the patients), the staff was there to provide support,” Dickerson stated.

Many of the more than 2,000 social workers in the Union played a central role in helping patients and community residents access an array of health and wellness services.

1199ers also fought tirelessly for better care for patients and improved working conditions for caregivers. For example, hundreds of nurses at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx struck in February 1988 to protest poor working conditions which adversely affected the care of AIDS patients.

The Union also fought to improve safety and health at the workplace for patients and workers. Lenora Colbert, the Union’s safety and health director, told The New York Times in December 1989 that 1199 had launched a campaign to prevent needle sticks and to provide safer needles and adequate training for all healthcare personnel.